Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sudan: After the floods, sleeping by the roadside

Source: International Rescue Committee (IRC)

It is the rainy season in Southern Sudan. The annual floods don't make life any easier in an area already struggling to recover from decades of civil war. But this year, the flooding was unusually severe. In mid-September, heavy rains caused rivers to break their banks and flood the lowlands of Aweil South, in Northern Bahr El Ghazal state — submerging villages, crops and grazing land for cattle.

Hundreds of people who would have been taking in a harvest of sorghum and groundnuts — now ruined, along with their homes — are instead camping by the roadside. It's the only dry land for miles. They are sleeping under mosquito nets stretched along the raised roadbed instead of in their tukuls, thatched huts clustered protectively in family groups.

It hasn't rained for a few days, so for now the flood waters are subsiding — but most people have lost everything. Many are becoming sick with malaria and respiratory illnesses.

An International Rescue Committee mobile clinic has been traveling through the flood zone treating displaced patients. These sturdy pickup trucks, stocked with medicines and staffed by a certified nurse and an assistant, are a familiar sight for many people who live in the region.

The IRC has been delivering humanitarian aid in Southern Sudan for 20 years and health care is a major focus of our work. The IRC's health coordinator in Sudan, Dr. Vincent Kahi, tells me that the mobile clinics target areas that were underserved even before the floods. During the rainy season some communities are inaccessible, so we have to rely on four-wheel-drive vehicles to reach patients with preventive care, such as immunizations for young children.

On a recent visit to Aweil I had a chance to travel with a mobile clinic team and speak with some of the families who have been displaced by the floods. This is what they told me:

Abouk Maduok, mother of five – expecting another child next month:

"After the building fell, all the utensils, bedding, linens and grain went with the water. This was what we had harvested. At night we sleep at the roadside because there is no [other] place for sleeping. My husband has gone to look for a job so that he can provide for the children. When the flood came I was very scared because it destroyed everything I had."

Ajok Bak, mother of five:

"I have sent my children with the cattle. I was at home when the flood came and all the tukuls fell. That's when I decided to come to the roadside. I've been here eight days … there is no alternative for me. Two of my children had malaria but they were treated by the mobile clinic. At least they are responding to the drugs."

Santino Akol, ten years old, with his mother:

"My home is over there (pointing) but all the tukuls fell. They are under the water. We had four tukuls. Now I sleep under a tree. I have five sisters and two brothers. I am the youngest. When the flood came I felt bad. I miss our tukuls and we are now at the roadside. My dad has gone to look for food for us."